Smokers may be banished off campus if new smoking ban goes into effect

Bergen Community College this week is expected to vote to ban smoking on its entire 167-acre campus in Paramus.

The school would join at least 65 others nationwide in a trend that pushes smokers to the periphery of campus life. In New Jersey, community colleges in Morris, Burlington and Somerset counties also have banned smoking campuswide.

The movement to ban even outdoor smoking has been growing across the country, with colleges, hospitals and even some cities in the vanguard.

“I’m an asthmatic and a former Lung Association president, and I can’t wait to ban it,” said G. Jeremiah Ryan, Bergen Community’s new president. “It’s a public health issue.”

It is expected that Bergen Community’s board of trustees will approve the ban today. It would go into effect in January.

The president of the faculty union, Peter Helff, said he agrees that smokers should be relegated to areas away from the general public. But a total ban is both “a mistake and unenforceable,” he said.

“It’s an overreaction,” said Helff, who is a pipe smoker. “And it will be a severe hardship on some of the people I represent.”

Other colleges and universities in New Jersey ban smoking in academic buildings and residence halls, and many require a smoke-free buffer outside buildings. But, so far, campuswide bans have been limited to the community colleges, which are commuter schools.

The concept of a campuswide ban began at a community college in Missouri in 2003 and accelerated after the release in 2006 of the latest Surgeon General’s Report detailing the harmful effects of secondhand smoke and the highly addictive nature of tobacco use, said Bronson Frick of the Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights.

“For an educational institution, it’s the only sensible policy,” Ryan said of Bergen Community. He had no firm estimate of the number of smokers on campus, but nationally about 30 percent of college students smoke.

Bergen Community has more than 15,000 students and about 1,000 staff members. Ryan said the college will offer smoking cessation programs beginning in October. “We’re hoping most folks will quit before the ban begins,” he said.

Across the country, most of the campuswide bans are at smaller and commuter schools. Efforts have foundered to enact such policies at some larger schools.

Opponents say smoking bans could create safety issues at residential schools, forcing students off campus.

“It can put the student in a dangerous situation,” said Michael McFadden, a regional smokers’ rights advocate. He said the bans amount to social engineering that is more Orwellian than American.

But the movement is picking up steam, said Frick, of the national nonsmokers group. The University of Iowa is considering a total ban by 2009. The 39,000-student main campus at Purdue University is now smoke-free, thanks to a ban on all public smoking in West Lafayette, Ind., where it is located.

As at Bergen Community, most of the campus bans are a matter of school policy rather than local law. Under Bergen’s plan, violators would be warned to stop and could face “disciplinary action” or removal from campus.

Those sanctions are part of the school’s current policy, which prohibits smoking inside and within 50 feet of school buildings. That policy is not always enforced, despite prominent signs. On a recent sunny afternoon, a pair of students sat smoking on a bench ‘ntilde; right under a “No Smoking” sign.